Friday, April 17, 2009

Quarterly Essay Issue 32: American Revolution, The Fall of Wall Street and the Rise of Barack Obama, by Kate Jennings

I keep getting sucked into reading the Quarterly Essays from Black Inc. Books when I should know better. In my defence, their titles and authors always make them seem so interesting, but then you read and you think, is that it? The intellectual climate in this country is pretty dire, if these essays are the best that is on offer. They’re just so bland and tepid, unless I’m missing something.

Kate Jennings, who worked for years as a speech writer on Wall Street, should have been able to write a sizzling essay into the crash of the American financial system and the rise of Obama, but she doesn't. Instead we get this lazy, self indulgent 90 page blab.

Jennings says nothing at all of interest, but just gives us a set of her diary clippings for the campaign. We read about her television viewing habits, friends she's hung out with, books and articles she's read. Big deal.

If someone had submitted this to me I'd have rejected it. I presume someone commissioned it, and was stuck with what she submitted. (Guy Rundle would have been a better pick for this, but he’s done a similar job in a book for Penguin, which I’ve almost finished reading.)

On balance, I'd have to say a lot of the Quarterly Essays are nothing more than hot air. They all feature left wing, progressive writers. I fear they're doing their cause, if they have one, a disservice.

The problem with these essays could perhaps be fixed somewhat if the editors cast their net a bit further out. The writers that are chosen for these essays are rather an homogenous lot. The intellectual mood and temperature is always the same. Why can’t they write something cracking and fiery and polemical?

There are heaps of other writers out there, but yet we get repeat essays from the same authors. Why not get writers with a different view? Um, interesting writers.

Something, anything, needs to be done to improve the quality of these essays. Yes, I'm a sucker, and will no doubt read further essays. I am intrigued to see what Anabel Crabb's upcoming essay will deliver.

Sigh. I think I've said enough on the matter. I hope this posting doesn’t sound too narky, but this essay left me feeling really ripped off.

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